In memory of John McCarthy


It was fantastic to see mental health and suicide being discussed on RTÉ Frontline last night. It can be unusual to see constructive discussion on current affairs programming, but I think that’s what the Frontline team achieved with the mix of guests – Minister Kathleen Lynch is a strong voice for mental health and within the constraints she has to operate in, I am confident that she will do her best to improve things.
A lot of what George Hook was saying made sense to me, and reminded me of much of John McCarthy and Mad Pride’s campaigning ground on mental health – that the medical model can be highly damaging, that nobody knows what to say to somebody depressed (trying to talk, instead of just listening, as we should), and that the pharmaceutical industry’s aim of getting as many people on as many different medications as possible suits an under-resourced health service. I was sorry John wasn’t around to participate, but I’m glad the conversation is happening.

Here’s my editorial from last week’s edition about John (originally printed in the Cork Independent).

“The world won’t be as much fun now that he’s left it.”

A user of the website Broadsheet made this comment when the site marked John’s death yesterday, and I can’t say it better.

John was a campaigner, a pugilist, a debater, a temporary politician, a poet and a rogue, but it was his fun that made him shine.

He had none of the hang-ups that the rest of us have, and it made him extraordinary.

The last time we met was in the new Marymount Hospice at Curraheen, where he had gone for respite. It was the best night out I ever had in a hospice.

We made Singapore Slings in plastic cups with glacé cherries, laughed, and argued.

He knew he hadn’t long left, and he was full of sage advice. Never one to beat around the bush, John asked my partner and I whether we loved each other, and if we had a good sex life, saying that nothing else really matters.  

He was like that.

John adored his lovely wife Liz with the ardent passion of a teenager. He loved life with the same passion, and his death makes the world a little darker for those who knew him, even if it was just through this newspaper or his frequent radio appearances.

His writing was a beacon for those in pain, and his raw honesty about so many things was refreshing in a world of spin and cynicism.

My last communication with him was a text I sent him the morning he died, asking if he’d heard about Mary Raftery and would he like to write about her for his column this week.

John and Mary Raftery worked together on ‘Behind the Walls’, the documentary that focused on the horrors of our mental health system, past and present.

Both were fearless campaigners with a sense of justice and fairness that is rare. Both stood up for people who had nobody else, who were ignored or who just needed someone with a loudspeaker to shout, “This is not right”.

The loss of John McCarthy will be felt by a great many people. His family has lost a wonderful husband, son, father, grandfather, and brother, and his friends have lost a counsellor, an advisor, and a drinking buddy.

But those represented by Mad Pride have lost a fearless advocate, an unquestioning giver of support and love, and someone who understood that being mad is normal and human.

That’s why we called John’s column The Human Condition; because John understood the pain and joy of being human better than anybody I have ever met. He knew about despair and about great love, and his life was one lived to the full in every possible sense.

John was not one for prayers, but there will be thousands of people worldwide thinking of him and sending their love and light to Liz and their family today as he is buried.

And, as he said himself of love; “In this life it is really all that matters”.

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One comment

  1. We’ve been missing you Deshocks! I’d like to send my love to Liz and the entire family though we’ve heard less of what going on in your country, we people being away in Africa!

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